Dowry, female infanticide and trafficking of women and children begin when a girl or woman is undervalued. This identity is reinforced as she grows up. What starts within the family, pervades into the community and becomes a strong culture. At the heart of every trafficking incident is the twisted relationship between the daughter and her family. Ideally, daughters derive security, love, strength, assurance, a sense of identity and fulfillment within their families. Sadly this was not the case for Reema*.
I met Reema in the shelter home after her rescue. She was emotionally broken and short-tempered and I knew there was more to her story than what was seen on the surface. I got to know her more closely during one of our interactions. Her father who had left home three years earlier on the pretext of work, did not return. Her mother, who worked as a housemaid, struggled financially to provide for her four children.
Hurt and confused by her father’s disappearance and surrounded by abject poverty, Reema ran away from home and met people who introduced her to smoking, drinking and making a life out of prostitution. She was rescued when she was still a minor.
At the shelter home, Reema learned jewelry-making and engaged in group therapy sessions with other girls. She responded positively, gained emotional strength and began for the first time to value herself. Though she was happy, she relentlessly expressed her desire to go back home and be with her mother. She affirmed her request at court and her mother was given custody over Reema.
I was apprehensive about her decision to go home but she promised her mother that she would not run away again. Her mother took custody of her with the same fears that I had, but she hoped that Reema would seize this opportunity to create a new beginning.
Every month, we stand with girls making decisions for their future. Sometimes we are happy to let them go, knowing that they will be safe. Most times our hearts know that they will go and we may never hear from them again.
I stayed in touch with Reema to allay my fears. On one of our phone conversations she was disturbed. Her neighbors were verbally abusing her, calling out names and speaking ill about her. She was hurt. The familiar fear came over her and she wanted to run away.
I decided to visit her but when I got there Reema was missing. Our worst fears were realized. Her mother was dejected; she had lost her daughter once again. Together we filed a missing person complaint at the police station.
Reema became vulnerable as a young teenager when her father left home. Even after rescue, her mother was unable to protect her from the derision of people in her community who did not value her. Reema ran away from her problems instead of facing them, just as her father had done before.
Her mother now dreams that her girl will come back and will live the life she dreamt for her “I will send her back to the shelter home” she says,” to learn and to have friends and get married.” We hope that someday, Reema will be found again.
[Asha is Freedom Firm’s social worker in Nagpur. She travels to the homes of rescued girls and provides them with much needed moral support]
*Name changed to protect identity